Carl’s Jr.’s Beef With McD’s

NEW YORK CKE Restaurants, owner of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, is taking aim at McDonald’s best-known icon in its latest salvo against the chain. Call it a Big Mac freakout.

The plan includes a new TV commercial for its Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains starring CEO Andy Puzder and a two-pronged social media campaign in which comedians and others rant about how they are mad as hell and aren’t going to eat Big Macs anymore.

First up will be a series of rants starring comedian J.B. Smoove, best known for playing opportunistic Leon Black on Curb Your Enthusiasm. In a series of vignettes shot by Los Angeles ad agency 72 and Sunny, Smoove riffs on how Americans today deserve better, then seques to smack talk about McDonald’s “puny” burgers. A prominent prop is a card that shows a Big Mac next to a Big Carl (or in Hardee’s case, the Big Hardee), a burger the chain debuted on Aug. 17 to directly compete with the classic. CKE boasts that its burgers are bigger, contain nearly double the meat, double the cheese and cost less than the Big Mac.

Why so sensitive? Because McDonald’s trod on CKE’s turf by launching the Angus Third Pounder in July, a direct competitor to Carl’s Original Six Dollar Burger and Hardee’s Thickburger (both versions of these Angus options actually sell for $3.99).

“The Big Carl effort was an offshoot of McDonald’s effort to rip off Carl’s Six Dollar Burger,” said Brad Haley, evp of marketing at  Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, who kicked off the burger with three taunting TV ads last month. “Both of our brands have pursued a premium quality strategy for years — and that serves us well — but people are interested in value as well as the economy has gotten worse.”

The Smoove rant goes live this week on the brands’ Facebook pages as well as YouTube and other social media sites.

The new TV ad, dubbed “Nothing,” also debuts Monday. It will be CKE’s  sole response to McDonald’s Angus Third Pounder, which the Carl’s crew refers to as “the McAngus.”

In the spot by Mendelsohn Zien, CKE’s Puzder is sitting in his executive office when a frantic marketer bursts in and warns him that they have a big problem: McDonald’s has launched a competing premium burger. “Is it 100 percent Black Angus? Did they buy charbroilers? Is it bigger than ours? Does it cost less?” are some of the questions Puzder calmly runs through. When asked what he wants to do about it, Puzder says, “Nothing,” and adds that no advertising is warranted.

Nevertheless, J.B. Smoove is not finished ranting. On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the day after he takes over the Facebook pages, he’ll be heading down to a McDonald’s in Los Angeles with 72 and Sunny for the second battle: The Bigger Better Burger Exchange.

At the press event, the megaphone-toting, trash-talking comic will aim to shame customers at a McDonald’s to swap their “puny” Big Macs for his girthier Big Carl’s, which will be available on a nearby truck in sort of a “Buns for Burgers” program. Footage will be used online and for PR purposes, not in traditional ads.

“Part 1 was about the injustice, that people aren’t getting what they deserve, so we had J.B. addressing the nation, [saying] ‘This shit ain’t right,'” said Jon Hall, CKE’s brand director at 72 and Sunny. “In part 2 of the campaign, we wanted to let people do something about it.”